New England Weekend Getaways: Things to Do in Maine

Adventure Travel, Backpacking & Trekking, Maine — By on October 7, 2010 at 10:00 am

New England is best known for its fall foliage but the region has plenty of natural attractions to see this time of year. From Maine to Massachusetts, this mini-series highlights what each of its states has to offer outdoors while the weather is still warm.

By Michele Herrmann

Maine is a summer vacation destination, but the state is quite active in autumn. As lobster shacks and beach-side venues begin to hunker down for colder temps, there is still time for recreational exploration, shopping, and getting your fill of crustacean. Take up these sites while en route along Maine’s inland and coastline, peninsulas and islands.

Into the Woods

Ninety percent of Maine is covered in forest. Visitors to the Acadia National Park often come to hike its granite peaks, bike historic roads, or take in the scenery. The rocky coastline is a big attraction, but the serene forests and mountain summits with coastal views are just as great. The park also has 120 miles of hiking trails. Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller Jr. created the park’s private carriage roads, a 57-mile system open to horses, foot traffic, and bicycles.

Acadia belongs to Mount Desert Island, which is split in two by an inlet and has these destination towns: Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont. Drive along the Island via the 27-mile Park Loop Road, for navigating through Acadia by vehicle.

Baxter State Park, a 200,000-plus-acre park in Millinocket, is pretty much the real deal with wilderness. Mount Katahdin rises above its surrounding lakes and forests. To Baxter’s north and west, millions of acres of forestland are owned by timber companies that allow but control public recreational access.

Camden Hills State Park in Camden has Mount Megunticook, the mainland’s highest peak. Reaching it involves a moderate climb via foot trail. The park’s signature spot is a scenic vista high atop Mount Battie for viewing Penobscot Bay and surrounding islands.

Climb the ledges at Georgetown’s Reid State Park and watch as the waves pound into the rocks below. Get a view of several islands such as Southport, where naturalist Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, and explore wide sand beaches.

Monhegan Island, a square-mile rock accessible by boat, has about 12 miles of steep and strenuous trails guiding through wooded areas and over rocky ledges up to ocean cliffs. The Maine Island Trail is 375-mile chain of more than 180 coastal islands and sites, with one part being public trail sites and the other two parts privately owned.

Maine’s 281 mile-portion of the Appalachian Trail is not recommended for novice hikers; it’s the most difficult of all 14 states. Seek help from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.

Taking in the Scenery

Near Penobscot Bay, the Blue Hill Peninsula is a back-road paradise with country lanes leading to ocean or winding through forests and along old saltwater farms.

Along the peninsula’s west side, find villages and towns such as Castine and Brooksville, then go on to Deer Isle, to discover Sunset and Stonington. On the east side, find Surrey and Blue Hill. Brooklin, also there, gave inspiration to author and resident E.B. White’s books such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.

The drive from twin towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport (together called The Kennebunks) passes by the Wedding Cake House. Kennebunkport, a resort area, is the summer residence for the presidential Bush family. Drive along Ocean Avenue to find newer mansions sprung up alongside older ones.

Portland‘s municipal ferry system gives access to Casco Bay’s islands. Or stay on land to stroll around the historic Old Port, particularly around Exchange Street. Boutiques, restaurants, and bars are near the waterfront. Stop by the Public Market House, stepping in for the now-defunct Portland Public Market.

Bangor, home to author Stephen King, has a thriving cultural scene. Ogunquit attracts stylish and sporty visitors with an array of shops and a cliff-side walk.

“The Yorks” are three towns (York Village, York Harbor, and York Beach) with different appeals. York Village is a living lesson in 17th-century American history and architecture while York Beach has amusements, taffy shops, a small zoo, lighthouse, and beaches.

Lighting up

More than 60 of lighthouses grace the state from the Nubble Light in York Beach to Lubec’s West Quoddy Head Light (which marks the easternmost lighthouse in the U.S).

Lighthouses can be seen either just by boat, a grounds-only visit, or inside a museum or visitor center. Some are still in operation through the U.S. Coast Guard. Learn more about them at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland.

The Marshall Point Lighthouse at the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum, near Port Clyde, has a cinematic moment. Its wooden catwalk served as a marker for Forrest Gump’s run across the country in the 1994 movie. Pemaquid Point Light in Bristol is depicted on Maine’s commemorative state quarter.

Going Recreational

Bethel Outdoor Adventure & Campground in Bethel offers bike rentals and kayak clinics. Their guides know much about canoeing and kayaking along the Androscoggin River as well as other area rivers and lakes. Maine’s Department of Transportation has a booklet on 25 popular bike trips in the state.

The Desert of Maine in Freeport is an exposed glacial slit that was found by accident by the land’s family owners. Today, it’s for exploration.

One way to see Maine’s waters is by windjammer. The Maine Windjammer Association represents 12 Maine windjammers operated by U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains. Maine Windjammer Excursions take passengers aboard their turn-of-the century cargo schooners.

Go whale watching on Odyssey Whale Watch and Nature Cruises in Portland or through Camden’s Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company’s excursion boats.

Guides at the New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket provide expert instruction in rafting techniques and water safety. North Country Rivers, based in Bingham, schedules rafting trips on the Kenenbec, Dead, and Penobscot rivers along with other ventures. Seacoast Fun Parks in Windham and Trenton offer adrenaline-filled and more relaxed attractions.

Maine’s Museums

Seven top museums belong to The Maine Art Museum Trail. They include Bates College Museum of Art (Lewiston), Bowdoin College Museum of Art (Brunswick), Colby College Museum of Art (Waterville), Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland), Ogunquit Museum of American Art (Ounquit), Portland Museum of Art (Portland), and University of Maine Museum of Art (Bangor).

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin contains navigational instruments and other artifacts from Admiral Robert E. Peary’s 1909 expedition to the North Pole. See Peary’s summer home at Eagle Island State Historic Site.

Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor has a collection of regional fish and touching tanks. Poland Spring Museum in Poland Spring chronicles the history behind the bottled water company.

Going Shopping

The Kittery Outlets is Maine’s shopping Mecca with little factory outlet shopping malls equipped with top name-brand retailers and cut-rate designer stuff.

Freeport is also lined with outlets and craft/novelty stores. L.L. Bean has been a fixture since it opened there in 1917. The locks on the doors were removed in 1951 when the decision was made to keep the store open 24 hours.

Like antiques? Maine is noted as a source for dealers, particular along Route 1 and through the Maine Antiques Dealers Association.

At Stonewall Kitchen’s flagship store in York, sample jams and spreads before placing an order from the on-site deli. Browse through handy kitchen accessories. Across from the Maine State Information Center in Yarmouth is the DeLorme Map Store. Find a wide selection of maps, the firm’s trademark state atlases, and CD-ROM map products.

Good Eats

Before October goes by quicker, find lobster pounds that are still open. Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown offers dining on seafood alfresco.  The Lobster Pound in Lincolnville Beach brags about its homemade lobster stew and soft shell clams.

The annual Maine Lobster Festival happens in early August at Rockland’s Harbor Park. Can’t wait? Foliage Food & Wine Festival in Blue Hill (October 15 – 17) is a culinary weekend filled with wine dinners, tastings, receptions, workshops and tours. Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor (October 21 – 23) will feature an epicurean delight of gourmet hors d’oeuvres paired with the right pours.

The Maine Brewers’ Guild promotes the state’s craft brewed industry of more than 20 breweries. See how potatoes turn into vodka at a tour of the Cold River Vodka in Freeport.


Learn about Maine’s farms and gardens through the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Come Sunday, Oct. 10, to sample local cheese made at creameries during the Maine Cheese Guild’s Open Creamery Day or catch the end of the Fryeburg Fair, the state’s largest agricultural fair.

Learn more about Maine here:

Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands

Maine Tourism Association

Maine Office of Tourism

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